Game 7 heartbreak as Thunder fall short in WLA Finals

by Gary Ahuja

Langley Thunder's Graydon Bradley tries to evade the check of New Westminster's Kevin Crowley during Game 7 of the Western Lacrosse Association Finals at Queen's Park Arena on August 29. The Salmonbellies captured the WLA championship with a 12-7 victory. Ryan Molag photo

It was Game 7 heartbreak for the Langley Thunder in the Western Lacrosse Association Finals.

Facing the top seed New Westminster Salmonbellies on Tuesday night at Queen’s Park Arena, the Thunder season was silenced, falling 12-7 to lose the best-of-seven championship series four games to three.

With the victory, the Salmonbellies will now host the Six Nations Chiefs in the Mann Cup championships next month.

“(The difference) was Higgins; he was the MVP for a reason. He had one heck of a series and goals were hard to come by,” said Langley coach Curt Malawsky, referencing New Westminster goaltender Zach Higgins, who was presented the WLA Playoffs Most Valuable Player Award.

“We had some quality, quality chances and good looks, but (New Westminster) finished their chances when they needed to. Hats off to them, they deserved to win and are a good representative for the West.”

Higgins finished the seven-game series with an .844 save percentage and for the two playoff series, he sported an 8.08 goals against average and an .832 save percentage.

“We ran into a hot goalie. Higgins played well and he was the MVP of the playoffs for a reason. We were getting our looks, it wasn’t like we weren’t creating opportunities for ourselves, but he had a heck of a series. We just ran into a brick wall,” added Langley captain Connor Robinson.

Game 7 began great for the Thunder as Curtis Dickson scored on the opening shot; but New Westminster responded with three straight for a 3-1 lead at intermission.

The second period saw Dane Dobbie score twice in the opening 95 seconds to tie the score at 3, but the Bellies were able to pad their lead to 8-5 and then tack on another pair of goals early in the third for what became an insurmountable lead.

“The guys never quit; I am proud of the way the guys battled all the way to that final minute of Game 7. It is a tough one for sure, but proud of the way the guys battled. Came up a couple of goals short, but we definitely weren’t short on effort,” Robinson said.

Dobbie led the Thunder with four goals while Dickson (1-3), Robert Church (1-2) and Chase Scanlan scored once each. Robinson finished with a pair of assists. Will Malcom led New Westminster with four goals and seven points, Mitch Jones added two goals and five points, Haiden Dickson potted a pair and Anthony Malcom (1-1), Brandon Goodwin (1-1), Kevin Crowley and Patrick Shoemay each scored once.

Higgins finished with 40 saves on 47 shots while Frank Scigliano made 48 saves on 60 shots. For the post-season, the Thunder goalie sported a WLA-best .839 save percentage and was second with an 8.15 goals against average.

“We don’t get to Game 7 if it is not for Frank Scigliano,” Malawsky said of the team’s goaltender and MVP all season long.

Malawsky shared the message he delivered to the crestfallen players post-game.

“For the young guys, you have to take this loss and learn from it and use it to drive your careers. And for the older guys, you did yourselves proud; you left it all out. This is a tough league to play in – it is grueling, you are playing every second night and it is a long season and a lot of times you are playing on concrete, and it is hard on your bodies – you are playing because you love the game,” he said.

He also expressed disappointment that he was not able to deliver what he was hired to do.

“I want to make sure we thank the Buchan family. I personally feel like I let them down; they brought me in to do a job and I didn’t get the job done. It is going to sit with me for a long time because they care so much about the sport, they care so much about the Langley Thunder, so I was hoping we could get it done for them. That is what is going to hurt most for me,” he said.